When time expired in Texas’ 51-17 victory over Florida Atlantic, a jubilant Malcolm Williams sprinted from the sideline to the bleachers to celebrate with fans.
“It was finally time to have fun,” said Williams, who was on the verge of tears a week earlier after Texas’ fourth consecutive loss.
Finally getting to watch the lighting of the Tower after the victory was an emotional sight for both the players and coaches. The sentiment that the win came against a lowly non-conference, 4-6 team was non-existent in Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium where the Longhorns (5-6, 2-5) had not won in more than two months.
“None of this had to do with who we were playing,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We’ve lost to some poor teams this season – tonight was about us.”
Facing the 63rd-ranked Florida Atlantic defense gave the Longhorns’ offense plenty of confidence throughout the game. Texas gained a total of 522 yards, including a balanced 263 passing and 259 rushing. Garrett Gilbert had his best game in a Texas uniform, completing 15-of-21 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and rushing for 60 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.
He played “near perfect,” by Brown’s standards, and the sophomore quarterback described the celebratory post-game locker room, something he hasn’t seen much this season.
“The excitement in there was awesome,” Gilbert said. “It was definitely something we could all get used to.”
One of the biggest departures from the earlier woes of 2010 was an established rushing attack. Playing without previous starters Fozzy Whittaker and Tre’ Newton, Cody Johnson became Texas’ first 100-yard rusher of the season, powering his way to 124 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
“We needed a back around here that could carry the load and Cody did just that tonight,” Brown said. “I’m really proud of him.”
Johnson wore a huge grin after the game and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief with every answer.
“I feel great,” Johnson said. “It’s no secret that we’ve been on a losing streak, and there’s no better feeling than to end it here tonight. We came together on all pieces of the game, and that’s definitely something to be proud of.”
Even Texas’ receivers, who have been widely criticized for dropped passes and a lack of focus came through in the game. James Kirkendoll had a 63-yard reception, and Williams had the play of the year on a Hail Mary heave to the end zone to end the first half, big plays that gave Texas an edge that Florida Atlantic never could overcome.
“It’s crazy that it took us so long to finally get on this page,” Kirkendoll said. “But hey, you’re only as good as you’re last play.”
With bowl eligibility on the line, the Longhorns will look to carry that momentum into the regular season finale on Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day rivalry match against No. 19 Texas A&M, which began a game against No. 6 Nebraska an hour after Texas’ game was decided.
“We asked the guys to leave here and get a pencil and paper and watch Texas A&M to write down what they can do to help us win,” Brown said. “But this game definitely gives our guys tremendous confidence they’ll need.”